A Strange Engagement

The Only Way

As he said the words, Draco shut his eyes tight. When he opened them again, he let out a slow breath and studied the girl sitting in front of him. Her eyes were glassy and her body was stiff. She seemed unable to move. Finally, he stood up and gazed down at her.

"Stand up," he ordered quietly. And she did so. Then she just looked at him, expectant. What was he supposed to do with her once the curse was put on? He couldn't remember. Finally, he just took her hand and led her out into the hallway. While they were out walking, he encountered another one of the guards.

"I have done as I have been instructed, and the girl is fully under my control. What is to be done with her now?"

Fortunately, this guard seemed at least much more awake then the rest. "The Dark Lord is in the dungeon awaiting your arrival. He has your instructions." Draco nodded and went on his way.

The dungeon was now strangely bathed in a queer green light. Draco approached its only occupant slowly, kneeling low once he reached him.

"I have gotten the girl under my control, my lord," he said quietly. "What is to be done now?"

Voldemort looked around the dungeon speculatively for a moment before grinning wickedly down at Draco.

"Young Malfoy, you will take the girl to your house and you will keep her there. I have placed Arion and Fallon at the house to guard her, and your parents and grandmother as well, although they are no longer allowed the luxury of making decisions for themselves." He laughed and it echoed ominously. After he stopped, he looked at Draco expectantly, who obliged him with something resembling more of a nervous squeak then a laugh.

Finally, Draco cleared his throat and stood up. "I shall take her home straightaway." He bowed again before dragging Hermione out of the room after him.

Once they were outside, Draco looked around wildly for a method of getting himself and Hermione away from the tower and out of the woods. Finally, after what seemed like ages, the same alert guard that had assisted him earlier came running out of the tower holding what looked like a dirty old watering can.

"This is for you!" he panted as he held the can out to Draco. "It's for getting back to the Manor, as we didn't allow time to get brooms when we picked the two of you up."

As soon as the guard was sure that the can was firmly in Draco's grip, he went back into the tower without another word, leaving Draco with Hermione on one arm, and the dirty can in the other.

Back at the castle, everyone was stunned into silence. Then Remus picked up Dumbledore's minute scribble and read it over again several times, his eyebrows knitting more with each reading.

"Remus," Harry asked hesitantly, "what's Ramstock Tower?"

Remus put the paper down again and looked at Harry, massaging his temples. "Ramstock Tower is an old, old fortress of magic, Harry. It has been around for centuries, even before Hogwarts. If Hermione was here, she would tell you that Ramstock Tower was even considered to be the location for Hogwarts."

Ron looked up at that. "Why isn't it?"

Remus shook his head. "Too much negative energy. The energy in and around a building has a major influence on the people inside it. And sometimes, with bad magic especially, it can have a mind of its own and make people do things. Really terrible things."

"A thousand years ago, the land that Ramstock Tower is on was often used for sacrifice rituals," Mr. Weasley added. "I would think that if you remembered anything from History of Magic, you'd remember that."

Harry and Ron looked at each other sheepishly. It was true they'd remembered reading something like that in the notes that Hermione had taken during History of Magic, but they hadn't really taken time to really soak it in.

Ron looked at his father. "So Dad, you're saying that once upon a time ago, wizards would sacrifice people in the woods? What sort of people?"

Mr. Weasley shrugged and wiped off his glasses on his robes. "Ron, I really couldn't tell you for sure."

"Muggles," Remus said quietly. "Muggles and any other poor unfortunates that they could get their hands on. They would build up wooden structures, stick the victims inside and then magically lock the things so that the people couldn't get out. Then, when they were locked in as tight as possible, the whole building would be set ablaze and the poor souls' dying screams would pierce the tranquility of the woods."

"Another topic of conversation please!" Mrs. Weasley's sharp voice rang out as a collective shudder went around the room and everyone turned to see her balancing a large tray of teacups and a pot in her arms. Remus jumped up to help her, gently relieving her of her burden. She collapsed into the nearest chair looking frazzled.

"Mum," Ron asked, "I know you want this topic to end, and it will, but can I just ask one more question?"

Mrs. Weasley sighed. "If you must."

"All right, I must." Ron turned to Remus. "Why would these wizards need to sacrifice muggles anyway? Was there a reason?"

Remus nodded as he began to pass around cups of tea. "Ancient wizardfolk were very superstitious, Ron. They believed that certain spirits in nature controlled their magic, and that if these spirits were not satisfied or thanked every so often, the magic that the wizards depended upon so much would be taken away."

"How often did they have to perform these sacrifices?" Harry asked, ignoring Mrs. Weasley's exasperated expression.

"They had to perform them every sixty years," Remus answered immediately.

"Do you think this has any connection to what's going on now with Hermione and the vampires?" Harry asked.

Remus looked thoughtful. "I really don't know."

Mrs. Weasley nodded. "And neither can anyone else, so would it be all right with everyone if I shared this letter that just came from Dumbledore?"

The entire room rotated to the large table that had been set up and Mrs. Weasley pulled the letter out of her robe pocket and read.

"Molly, I've just received word that Draco and Hermione have migrated back to Malfoy Manor. It seems that Voldemort is placing her there once again with hopes she will be well-guarded until she's needed. The Imperious curse has been placed upon her as a precaution, but tell Harry and Ron that they need not worry about that. I think we can use it to our advantage. I won't tell you how in case this letter falls into the wrong hands. You'll have to trust me.

Albus Dumbledore"

Mrs. Weasley looked up from the letter at the stunned faces of those around the table.

"I wonder what Dumbledore is planning?" Remus mused. "Knowing him, it's probably something really clever."

When Draco arrived with Hermione back at the Manor, he was surprised to meet Dumbledore at the front door.

"Hello, sir," he greeted the headmaster, gazing at him with curiosity. Dumbledore grinned back, his eyes twinkling beneath his half-moon spectackes.

"Hello, Draco. Can I assume by the look on your face that you are curious as to why I'm here?"

Draco nodded. "Yes, sir."

Dumbledore smiled again. "Well, why don't we go inside for a bit of tea, and I'll explain my plan." He studied Hermione. "And Miss Granger looks like she could use a bit of fixing up as well."

Draco looked up at him, panicked. "Please, sir. You can't do that! I'm specifically under orders from the Dark Lord to keep her under my control until I receive orders telling me otherwise."

Dumbledore said nothing, but began to walk up to the front door, opening it with a flick of his wand. Upon entering the house, Dumbledore took a good look at Narcissa, with her expressionless face. Then he gazed at Draco.

"Draco, this is what has happened to your mother because of Voldemort. Do you want Miss Granger to be like this as well?"

Draco looked at Hermione, then his mother, then back at Hermione one last time. Then, he capitulated, handing Hermione over to Dumbledore. Dumbledore took her into one of the rooms near the front door and muttered some words that Draco couldn't make out. When he came back, Hermione looked very much like her old self, almost too much in fact. Then Draco gazed at Narcissa. "Sir, could you-"

Dumbledore shook his head. "No, I'm sorry Draco. If I undo too much of what Voldemort has ordered, Arion and Fallon will get suspicious and report back."

Finally, Hermione spoke. "Sir, I think I've had enough excitement for one summer, so please tell me I get to have things be calm now. And if Arion and Fallon are supposed to be guarding the place, how did you get in?"

Dumbledore smiled. "I have my ways. Now, as to what happens next for the two of you. I don't think it wise for you to stay here based on past events, but I have thought of other arrangements." He turned away from them, but Hermione saw the glint in his eyes anyway.

"What other arrangements did you have in mind, sir? Where are we staying?"

Dumbledore turned to face her. "Miss Granger, you are now as much a risk to Voldemort as Harry is. Where did I place him to keep him out of harm?"

Draco's eyes widened. "You don't mean that the two of us are going to live with muggles, do you?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Of course. Think of it as a learning experience, Draco. Besides, I think it's time you met your 'future in-laws'."

And as Hermione watched in amusement, Draco fainted onto the floor of the foyer.

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